I could feel the muscles in my back and in my neck tense up. My palms began to sweat. "What do you know about on-line virtual communities?" This simple little question posed by my English professor initiated a state of panic for me. Come to think about it, I did not know much about virtual communities, so how was I suppose to write a paper on the subject? The tension escalated.
Up to this point, using the MOO during the computer lab segment of my English class was the only educational exposure I had to online communities. Even then, I felt overwhelmed by the new and foreignexperience. On a brighter note, I felt a little reassured because I thought I knew what an online community was. A community is a place where individuals gather and interact, such as a school, a neighborhood, or a church. I then concluded that an online community is a virtual commonplace where individuals from different parts of the world could gather and interact. The only difference between an online community and a neighborhood community was the fact that in an online community no one could see me. Written words comprised the conversations. This is an interesting point because in virtual chatrooms, body language and eye contact are absent. Unless otherwise expressed, sex, age, and occupation are not known. Being unknown is important because, many times, people make judgements based on these factors. There is also less pressure in a virtual community people do not know who I am and cannot see me. Therefore, people are more apt to contribute because they have more confidence and feel they have nothing to lose. For example, I feel uninhibited and confident when I contribute to a virtual community conversation because I do not know anyone in that community, and they do not know me.
This last point, the fact that people can not see me or know who I am, brings me to one of the negative assumptions I have about virtual communities. When I think of virtual chat rooms, I automatically envision children, or perverted individuals using chatrooms as a form of "entertainment." In recent years, there have been many news-related events where men lure underage children they encounter in chatrooms to some illegal activity, usually pornography. Then, there are those individuals who find love on these chatrooms, only to find out that their true love is some kind of law offender. Do not get me wrong, there are, of course, the rare cases where couples do meet and fall in love and live "happily ever after." Nonetheless, my overall reaction to chatrooms is one of skepticism and doubt.
For the most part, I only use the Internet for school assignments and as a means of keeping in contact with family and friends via e-mail. It was not until this semester that I needed to rely on the Internet for something other than e-mail and research. One of the requirements for my upper division writing class is to post summary and response papers to assigned readings using Damoo. My...